Annual Academic Council meeting addresses LRP, improvements for Faculty Senate

May 24, 2019, 1:32 a.m.

At the annual meeting of the Academic Council, Stanford president Marc Tessier-Lavigne, Vice Provost Persis Drell and members of the Faculty Senate presented on the three overarching themes in Stanford’s Long Range Plan (LRP) and the progress of University initiatives towards the development of those themes — advancing and bridging disciplines, building pathways to impact and strengthening communities on campus and beyond.

The Academic Council, consisting of tenure-line and non-tenure line faculty members, fellows and some administration officers, gathers annually in a public meeting. Since 1968, the Academic Council has elected representatives to the Faculty Senate, which meets several times each quarter.

Faculty Senate Chair Stephen Stedman complimented Senate members for being thoughtful, engaged and focused. He had just one suggestion for improvement: timeliness.

“It is disappointing to me that throughout the year we only have quorum after the memorial resolutions are read,” he said.

The memorial resolutions occur at the very beginning of a Senate meeting and are presented by a friend or coworker of the deceased. Stedman described resolutions as an important and undervalued part of what the Faculty Senate does.

“One day it will be your memorial resolution, and even though you will not care then, you and your loved ones will still deserve a quorum,” Stedman said.

Stedman did offer another recommendation, which was to more carefully regulate the number of faculty committees formed inside and outside the Senate.

“Proliferation of committee task forces is not good for the university,”  Stedman said. He pointed out that committees take time away from the primary responsibilities that the members have, namely teaching and research.

In addition to the excessive number of committees, Stedman argued that Faculty Senators, not administrators, should select the members of a University committee.

“The fact that administrators and not the committee on committees choose these members opens the administration to the perception that they are cherry-picking the facility to give them the answers they want to hear, not the answer they need to hear,” Stedman said.

Long Range Plan

Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne introduced the Long Range Plan (LRP) that the Academic Council has been developing for the past year and its major themes of advancing and bridging disciplines, building pathways to impact and strengthening communities on campus and beyond.

Tessier-Lavigne suggested that the first theme would not focus on bridging similar areas of study, but rather on tying together disparate disciplines, such as the natural sciences and social sciences.

Philosophy professor Debra Satz explained that one of the multiple initiatives falling under the first theme is to create a “research hub” that asks questions about the changing human experience.  

“You might imagine questions like: What does it mean for work, society and for ourselves that human beings are living longer,” Satz said.

Satz went on to describe the Natural World Fellows program aimed to empower a new generation of interdisciplinary scholars and the creation of the Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence (HAI) Institute.

Tessier-Lavigne explained the second theme as one that focuses on accelerating the application of knowledge. Economics professor Jonathan Levin described the initiatives supporting the second theme as aimed at creating a research and development (R&D) infrastructure that will allow faculty to get ideas into practice.

“The vision is for each of the accelerators to have an R&D engine that will consist of shared resources and expertise which will allow faculty to get ideas into practice and cross what in medicine we would call the valley of death of those of working in telecommunications would call the ‘last mile,’” Levin said.

Tessier-Lavigne explained that the vision for the third theme is to create an inclusive community that inspires learning. Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education and ResX co-chair Harry Elam described the three elements of creating an inclusive community: on-campus housing organization, diversity and affordability.

“The ResX task force decided that the guiding concept of the Stanford residential experience would be neighborhoods,” Elam said. “Each neighborhood will foster continuity during students’ four years at Stanford.”

Elam initially introduced two other initiatives under the overarching theme of community, including the creation of the affordability task force and an application that will allow users to compare diversity statistics across different groups on campus.

“This new tool will help us track diversity on our campus and monitor our progress,” Elam said.

The new initiatives based around these three themes will fall inside of already existing frameworks.

“We will take advantage of what is already is already deeply collaborative structure on our campus,” Provost Persis Drell said. “We want to complement the existing structures, not damage them.”

Next steps

Drell showed the council a graph summarizing the current stage of the Long-Range Planning process. With the initial vision, the bulk of the design team work and plan creation in the rearview mirror, the initiative is now in the stages of “short-term next steps” on the way to future execution of the full plan.

“One-time seed funds” are available to launch the new initiatives, Drell said, and securing funding is an important component of the phase ahead. The funds would either be drawn from philanthropy, resources at the University level or redirection from other areas.

Though still in progress, the planning efforts have already had an impact.

“We’ve been going through this process for a while now… and Stanford has already changed in this process,” Drell said.

Among the primary changes have been catalyzing new leadership, creating new interdisciplinary connections and clarifying pressing community issues, which Drell said were critical to address in order for the University to reach its goals.

Drell said that the team had seen many faculty and staff members stepping up to “shape the future that they are going to be living in” and forefronting initiatives they care about to make Stanford “their institution.”

In the process, many people with common interests from the university have been brought together — “Great research, great teaching, great impact on the world are going to result from that,” Drell said.

Questions from the audience

One question from an audience member requested more information about the Public Humanities Initiative, a project under the “Advancing and Bridging Disciplines” umbrella in the LRP. Satz said that the purpose of the initiative was to bring “the work of our faculty and graduate students into a public audience.”

There had been a sense, Satz said, that many of these ideas were “not leaving the bounds of the academy” and that the program was aimed to improve the situation by teaching Ph.D. students to write for public audiences. Some in the audience chuckled as she remarked, “We could probably also bring some of our faculty to that as well.”

Drell noted that several issues would be critical for the future of the University, including affordability for staff members and faculty diversity. Retention of staff members is becoming more difficult, and Drell said affordability is central to this issue.

“There is not a magic bullet, one-size-fits-all solution” for all staff members, she said. Instead, the team is working on a “menu” of solutions that involve benefits, childcare, housing and transportation.

“It’s a problem we have to solve,” she maintained.

While predicting the Stanford of the 2030s was for the most part beyond the scope of Drell’s self-described “crystal ball,” she said one thing was certain— that “the outstanding institutions of the future who will attract the most outstanding scholars will be ones that figure out how to diversify. Because as Harry [Elam] said, the future is diverse.”

The ResX task force also featured in a number of discussion topics. Responding to whether Greek life could find a place in the new vision for residential communities, Elam said that it was a “simple answer — yes.” He noted that a task force on Greek life under Vice Provost for Student Affairs Susie Brubaker-Cole as well as an alumni group of former Greek housing residents are currently working on this issue.

“What we’re asking Greek life is how can they work within the paradigms we’ve set up for residents,” Elam said. “Certainly Greek life has been an important place for community … it’s critical that we retain those things that are effective at that.”

Contact Paxton Scott at paxtonsc ‘at’ and Elise Miller at elisejl ‘at’

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